It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.i This quote from Audre Lorde was from a series of poems written in 1994 entitled Our Dead Behind Us. This quote could be used to describe most African Americans’ mindset a few decades ago when the Civil Rights movement was the most prominent battle going on in the United States. Even today, about 50 years later, those words ring true about political beliefs between citizens and politicians over ideas such as health care, international relations, or a wall. The Civil Rights movement is often praised as a political event, but what was the religious and spiritual meaning to it as well? This paper will be looking at the Civil Rights movement that happened in the United States during the 50s and 60s, while also looking at the role of Christianity within that movement, for both the African American protesters looking for freedom, and the white oppressors looking to stop them. Also, it will look at other Civil Rights activists like Malcolm X, whose conversion to Sunni Islam also provided a different out look to Civil Rights activists.
The Civil Rights movement began in earnest in the 1950s, although there were actions that occurred prior to that time that focused on civil rights. As early as the late 1890s and early 1900s, African Americans were debating the best way to achieve their rights.ii Should they rise and try to take their rights by force, or should they use a nonviolent tactic and use their words and more polite actions to at least try and get attention to their issue? William James, a great philosopher, once wrote that those who oppose war must create a substitute for war’s disciplinary function and a moral equivalent of war.iii While James was giving his speech and promoting this in New York, another nonviolent believer was putting this into action in another part of the world.
As we have read throughout this course, Mohandas Gandhi was one of the best advocates for nonviolence. First, he opposed a law that required Indians who were in South Africa to register with the government. Beatings and jail time for the Indians commenced, but a peaceful public outcry ensued because of the violence shown by government officials towards nonviolent Indian protesters. This led to a compromise in South Africa and prompted an idea for Gandhi. He returned to his homeland of India with this new strategy of nonviolence and opposed the British colonization of India for the next forty years. Eventually, the Indian people won independence without fighting a bloody war against the British.iv Gandhi’s words and actions laid the foundation for nonviolent action, and his work would be utilized and celebrated in the United States during the Civil Rights movement by many other activists, including the most famous one in the United States.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 to a middle-class African-American family in Atlanta,
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